Friday, June 29, 2012


     A comment I received on a post earlier this week made me really think.  I had been talking about how guilty I felt when I realized I was feeling happy, and the commenter mentioned she was dealing with the same "mind games" and guilt.  One sentence really cut me to the quick:  "Isn't it crazy how we feel guilty no matter what we do?"
     And that sentence right there was the one that made me face another haunting thought I haven't had the guts to deal with.  I feel guilty over the death of my son.  That's what it all boils down to.  If I didn't, I wouldn't feel guilty for being happy, for having good days, for not mentioning him whenever I could.  And every day there's a new idea of what I could have done differently, to perhaps change the outcome.

I could have bought him clothes.
I could have read to him every night.
I could have exercised more.
I could have eaten better.
I could have gotten more sleep.
I could have stayed away from herbal teas.
I could have been more excited to try to get pregnant, even though I had just had a baby.
I could have prepared Carpenter's room for him instead of saving my guest room to the last possible minute.
I could have held him one more time at the hospital.
I could have kissed him.
I could have ...done so much more for my son.

     I feel guilty for not doing the absolute best by my son in every way.  Maybe if I had just done these things, or something, I could be holding my sweet boy in my arms right now.  Maybe I could have done something to save him.  And while the logical part of my brain tells me no--that I've already had a healthy baby and did nothing different the second time--I don't think I'll ever shake the guilt. 
    So, I'll just take a second to say what I wish I had said straight to Carpenter's little face as I held him in my arms.  I'm so sorry, baby.  I did some things right, and some things I regret, but I hope you know that no matter what, I always loved you, and always will.  Forgive me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Trigger Episodes

I just had what I call a "trigger episode" in Target, and I wanted to write this down before the feeling went away.  I call it a "trigger episode" because I see a grief-trigger, and my body responds physically.  I saw a woman, my age, standing in the entryway.  When she moved, I saw she had been perfectly blocking a stroller--a triplet stroller--full of newborns.  And here's what I felt, physically.

Heart palpitations
My heart sinking
Overwhelming sorrow
The urge to sob
The inability to sob
Weakness in my arms
The urge to sink to the floor and lie down
Flight instinct
Cracking voice
Heavy head

When I saw her later, walking with her husband and babies, I literally looked at them, yanked my cart around (with Liv in it) and sped off in the other direction.  It's been twenty minutes since I got home and I'm still weak in the knees.  But I wanted to write this down quickly (haphazardly) while I knew I could accurately explain it.  Because sometimes I worry that people think this is all in my head. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Moving day?

     Okay, I wrote something in my last post that made me want to write another one.  (Stream-of-consciousness blog posts are so helpful to the reader, I'm sure.)  :)  But, I said that recently, I only bring up Carpenter to people who already know about him, and even then I get the feeling that those people are ready for me to move on. 
     I've been thinking about this for a while now.  Three weeks ago, my sisters and I hired a photographer to take pictures of all of our kids together, and I wanted to represent Carpenter as much as possible.  (Liv wore an awareness ribbon and carried his toys and pictures.)  And even though it was my money and my little family, I still felt strange interjecting this absent person into a fun family shoot.  My sisters didn't say a word--they're very supportive--but through the photo shoot, I constantly felt like I was the weirdo, asking people to hold up pictures of a dead person most of them had never met. 
     Monday, when I got the pictures back from the photographer, I decided to get a photo book printed because they were on sale.  I decided to reserve one page for each child, then a page for each individual family, then the full-group shots at the end.  I enjoyed mine so much, I started making one for my parents.  When I got to the page for Carpenter, I went back and forth for an hour, trying to decide whether to include him.  "Will they want him in this?"  "What should I say on his page?"  And the most irritating question, "Is this the last time they'll be supportive and will they want me to drop it next time?"  I mean to say, "Can I keep including Carpenter in family photo shoots, even just family discussions, forever?"  ...or will people lose patience with me? 
     It's amazing how quickly people move on.  Like Betty said on Mad Men, "I know people say life goes on, and it does, and no one tells you that's not a good thing."  They keep moving on, and I'm trying to figure out how to keep one foot back there on February 19 when I held my son in my arms.  I cling to ways to stay close to him, which is why I'm sitting here stitching awareness ribbons and designing t-shirts all night long instead of sleeping (which is completely overrated anyway).  
     But I have to wonder, when will people close to me expect me to move on?  What's the shelf life on their attention span as far as Carpenter is concerned?  And I know that's not a question I can ask.  I probably wouldn't even like the answer.  So instead I think I'll just keep interjecting my little boy wherever I can.  Whether or not people are ready for me to move on, it's just not something I'm willing to do.  

The kids and Liv's awareness ribbon
(Absent: one recent NICU grad!)

Liv looking at her little brother

My sweet kids!


     I felt something different yesterday.  Of course, nothing was different.  I woke up with my daughter, had breakfast, played with her, talked to friends on the phone, ran errands, cleaned, hated the rude neighbor kids.  But sometime around 5pm, I realized that for the first time since Carpenter died, I wasn't counting down the minutes until my husband got home from work.  Liv and I were playing on the bed, laughing our butts off, and it hit me.  I was happy.  And that immediately made me feel guilty.
     When I first came home from the hospital, my niece was the first person to greet me.  She demanded I show her all the pictures of Carpenter again and we sat together talking about how cute he was.  I spent most of the next week crying.  When Liv came home, I tried to keep a stiff upper lip but faltered, having crying jags that lead to tearful calls to Mike, begging him to come home.  6 weeks post-stillbirth, I would choke back tears whenever I had to go to Target in the middle of the day.  (That place is ripe with triggers.)  I took meds for a while, determined to shake the pain that encompassed everyday life.  Now, four months post-stillbirth, I am scared to death to be happy.
     I know that sounds insane.  Which is why I haven't had the guts to say it out loud to anyone--even myself.  You might ask why I'm so concerned about this, when it's what I've been wanting for so long.  And I'll just come right out and say it.  I'm scared that if I'm getting happy, I'm losing my connection with my son.  Now I know (hope?) that you're thinking to yourself how crazy I am--that I could never lose him--but if you told me that today I'd have none of it.
     When someone told me about the "new normal" aspect of babyloss, I was relieved.  I didn't want everything to be the same.  I didn't want to feel like I did before Carpenter's death because so much had been taken from me.  Something had to change to reflect that.  So I embraced a new normal in which I spoke up to anyone around, telling people of my son's little life.  I wore my "1 in 4" t-shirts to the gym every day.  And I felt relief when I cried, knowing that Carpenter could see my tears and know I missed him.
     But this week, something is different.  I bought new gym clothes, and sewed new skirts so I didn't have to wear yoga pants and pregnancy loss t-shirts every day.  I mention Carpenter only to those who actually know about him (and I feel like most of them are ready for me to move on).  And I can't remember the last time I had a good cry.  This week, I've been pretty close to what I used to be like before I lost Carpenter.  This week, I've not been overcome with grief, and I couldn't be more upset about it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Project Sweet Peas

     Last summer, I went into the hospital ready to be induced with Liv, carrying a small suitcase and my purse.  When we finally left, three days later, Mike had to make several trips down to the car before he got everything loaded.  The hospital gave us the sundries: diapers, wipes, formula.  But it seemed like everyone who visited us brought something.  Bags of clothes, accessories, toys--all for our tiny newborn girl.  Of course, in February, when our sweet Carpenter was born still, everything was different.  
     No diapers were needed.  No formula purchased.  No one argued over what new outfit he would wear home since he was never going home.  My parents brought my little angel a rosary, and my cousin bought me a new towel, shampoo and body wash.  What are you expected to bring?  It's not like you bring gifts to a funeral. 
     When the nurse explained to me what services they could give me and Carpenter, I'm sure I was barely paying attention.  I was in such a fog.  But when she brought in handfuls of bags, I perked up.  Our hospital goes above and beyond.  They have a bereavement services team who make sure that your arms are as artificially full as they can make them.  I chose an outfit, a hat and blanket.  Then she handed me a box full of other presents.  A bag for a lock of hair (which we didn't take).  A small gold ring they put on his toe like a halo.  His receiving blanket.  A teddy bear I refused to put down for weeks.  Matching mommy/son hospital bracelets that neither of us got to wear.  Pictures, footprints, measurements, and a box to keep it all in.
     Talking to another angel-mom recently, I realized that the few things I did carry home were so much more than most women get.  Some people are sent home with boxes like me.  Some with a teddy bear and an outfit.  A woman in my group didn't even get measurements.  Others take home nothing but tragic memories.  When I heard that, I got mad.  I mean spitfire mad.  So I started looking for groups online that donate items to hospitals to give to bereaved mothers.  There are SO many.  And I started calling hospitals.  That's when I REALLY got mad.  A local hospital who had given a friend of mine nothing after her miscarriage was unsure when I called, and never responded to my emails.  
     How dare they?  How can they see mother after mother walking out of the hospital in tears and not want to reach out to them?  And so I was mad for a few days.  And then I rolled my eyes and rolled up my sleeves.  If hospitals are going to respond that way, why should we wait around for them to change?  So I started looking for groups who deal directly with mothers, and I found Project Sweet Peas.  
     Project Sweet Peas was founded by three mothers, and has grown into a nationwide network of volunteers who have all been in our tragic shoes.  Kate Crawford, Stephanie Olivarez and Corin Nava are committed to providing comfort to families who have either lost a child, or whose child is in the NICU.  Stephanie was kind enough to tell me a bit more about their generous project.

What inspired you three to start Project Sweet Peas?
     "Corin Nava never imagined watching her baby fight for his life.  Her son, Gabriel, was diagnosed after birth with CDH(Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia)  After 55 days in the NICU, Gabriel passed away from complications due to his condition.  Through Gabe's death, Corin met Kate Crawford. Kate's daughter, Shannon, died from a combination of CDH and HLHS.  Corin and Kate then befriended me (Stephanie Olivarez) who also had a child diagnosed with CDH.  My daughter Shelby, still suffers from complications due to her defect.  We three came together for comfort and support.  We started filling bags with items we wished we had and needed during our stay in the NICU. We three gave name to the idea, Project Sweet Peas.
     "In July 2009, we offered other families the chance to join the mission.  Today Project Sweet Peas is a nationwide nonprofit organization run by parents and volunteers.  Project Sweet Peas has paid zero employees and we're 100 percent volunteer.
     "By sharing our experiences, Project Sweet Peas volunteers make packages that not only provide a touch of relief to families but also to encourage parents to bond with their children."

What is CDH?
     "CDH is Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia.  It is a condition in which a hole in the diaphragm allows abdominal organs to move into the chest and restrict lung development.  As a result, the intestines and other organs in the abdomen can move into the chest and compress the developing lungs.  This prevents the lungs from growing and developing normally, which can cause reduced blood flow to the lungs and pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the pulmonary circulation).  CDH is a birth defect that occurs in about one in every 2,500 live births.  50% of CDH babies do not survive."

What kind of things go into our care packages?
     "Our Basic NICU Care Package contains a baby blanket, baby hat, birth pillow, baby booties, journal, photo album, a child's book, hand/foot molds and a camera.
     "We also offer a Long Term Care package which includes all or most items like the NICU Care package.  Also included are items such as shampoo/conditioners, lotion, hand lotion and napkins. Items that are used for a long stay.
     "Our Memory Packages are for the babies that have grown their wings. Included are Memory Boxes filled with a journal, kleenex, stuffed animal, wisp of hair bags, broken heart pendants, hat and blanket.  We also do special requests on items such as a necklace with Angel's name or a bracelet.  With our Memory Packages we try to provide cherished keepsakes that families can keep."

When Shelby was diagnosed, did you receive any gifts that you still hold dear?
     "I did receive a butterfly blanket and I still have it today.  In the NICU after Shelby was born there was a butterfly with her name on it. The butterfly has remained a symbol of hope for us.  Shelby continues to soar everyday."

What has been your favorite experience from being part of Project Sweet Peas?
     "I feel that through all our different experiences with our children in the NICU's we have formed a bond.  An understanding of how hard the days are when your child is in the NICU.  It is a feeling of helplessness. Through our experiences we give back from our hearts to help families. Project Sweet Peas is a family unit.  We are a close unit that share in heartbreak, happiness and a very strong love for each other."

Are there any other charities or organizations you think more Angel-Moms should know about?
     "We would love for Angel Moms to know about Project Sweet Peas.  We feel honored to send out Memory Packages for families to have cherished keepsakes."

     They feel honored.  What a beautiful sentiment.  But I suppose that's how it should be.  Families look around them in their time of greatest need and reach out to those who can truly be relied upon.  Kate, Stephanie and Corin are people who can be relied upon.  They see the great need and suffering of an unspoken number of families and when so few reach out a hand, Project Sweet Peas hands out their heart.  

     Thank you to Project Sweet Peas and all their volunteers for reminding us that no matter what, we in this Secret Club of Babyloss can always turn to one another.  

To become a Project Sweet Peas volunteer, click here.
To request a package, click here.
And to let these three lovely ladies know how amazing their work is, click here.